It was the newest of books. It was the oldest of books. Or some kind of good Dickensian prose like that.
March is always a tough month for me. My birthday is coming up. And that’s also the day I lost my Dad. So celebrating my 50 years on earth this year whilst also mourning the 36 of them without Dad. And now a year and then some without Mom. It’s so very weird being an orphan around birthdays and holidays.
Anyway, a wise priest told me years ago to learn to celebrate my birthday the way Dad would have. And I figure the same advice applies for Mom too. So I decided a trip to the bookstore was in order. After all, neither of my parents ever passed up a bookstore. This trip, I came across a beautiful copy of A Tale of Two Cities. Gorgeous cover. Gilded edges on thick glossy pages. Nice heft to it. A little pricier than I’d normally drop for a book but I felt drawn to it, so I got myself a lovely early birthday gift.
A Tale of Two Cities was one of Mom’s favorite novels. She read it every year. As she got older and her eyesight started to fail, I offered to see if I could find a large print copy or to download a copy to her Nook. But she said no. She liked her copy. She could manage with a magnifying glass. Honestly, I don’t think she really could but it didn’t matter much because she’d read it so many times she knew what it said.
I figured reading this story would be like having her reading it with me. By the way, she was horrible person to read a book with – always dropping spoilers like a toddler dropping Cheerios. I either had to read a book in it’s entirety before she ever started it or avoid being in the same room with her until I’d finished it. Unless of course I wanted to know how the love triangle ended up or who the murderer was or every other major plot twist that was waiting 50-100 pages ahead of wherever I was in the book.
I don’t know what made me pull her old copy off my bookshelf but somehow, before I started reading mine, I wanted to glance through her book. Suddenly, I understood why she only wanted her copy.
Clearly this was a book she’d read for the first time in school. On the edges of the worn pages: Gene + Lou. All throughout the book were doodles: little hearts with her and dad’s initials, Marylou loves Eugene, Mr. and Mrs. T.E. Pelfrey. And inside the front cover? A love poem from Dad. In the back pages in a place to review the book – “Climax (point where interest is the highest): [in Dad’s writing] On The Flyleaves. Judging from the other one word notes in her writing and his, she was more of a fan of this novel than he was. I can just picture them sitting together and passing the book back and forth.
Did I mention they were junior high and high school sweethearts? Yeah. Young teenagers in love is all over this worn little book and it’s just the cutest damn thing. For a little bit, it felt like they were sitting right here in the room with me. I think that was the birthday gift I was meant to receive: a reminder of the love that brought me into this world.